Thunder Bay

MNRF cancels aerial moose surveys in five Management Units in northwestern Ontario

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has cancelled more than half the aerial moose surveys scheduled for northwestern Ontario this winter due to what it calls "unfavourable conditions."

Warm weather and "unfavourable conditions" in January blamed for cancellations

Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council (AANTC) is working with officials at the Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs (MFFP) to carry out a moose population count in the reserve this winter. (CBC )

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has cancelled more than half the aerial moose surveys scheduled for northwestern Ontario due to what it calls "unfavourable conditions."

Jolanta Kowalski, the Senior Media Relations Officer with the MNRF, says survey conditions were good until early January.

However, she said two weeks of abnormally warm weather right across the northwest region created problems for the biologists doing the aerial count.

``When you get that extensive warm weather, moose kind of shift into conifer cover," said Kowalksi. "And they will stay there generally until the snow melt in the spring. If they are under cover, it makes it a bit difficult to count their numbers."

Kowalski said surveys were completed for 3 Wildlife Management Units including 5, 7A/7B and 14. Surveys were cancelled in 5 WMUs including 8, 9A, 9B, 11A and 13.

"What were are doing now is with the survey's done in the northwest, we are going to look at the results, " Kowalski said. "And then we will try to assess - relative to population trends - what the moose population objectives should be for those wildlife management units on both a bull to cow ratio, and a calf recruitment level."

Kowalski said there are no plans to reschedule the flights cancelled. She said in units that missed getting surveyed, MNRF biologists will use inventory results and estimates from previous surveys.

John Kaplanis, the executive director of the Northwestern Ontario Sportsman's Alliance, is upset the ministry has had to cancel five of the eight aerial moose surveys scheduled this winter in the region. "Heavy disappointment is a very good way to put it," he said.

Kaplanis - an avid moose hunter - said the continual decline of moose is a primary concern of both his membership and many non-hunting residents.He said everyone who cares about moose in Ontario looks to the MNRF for guidance.

"We put a lot of hope, and faith, into this agency to conduct moose management and monitoring the population," he said. "Especially in light of the fact that currently, we are in an declining population mode for moose."

Kaplanis, who said he has been a volunteer observer on 3 previous aerial surveys for MNRF, said some good flying conditions in late December were largely missed by the ministry. He said he believed lack of available staff may have been one reason, as well as a lack of aircraft.

"You have to have your ducks in a row," said Kaplanis. "You have to have flight availability.Your helicopters have to be ready to go. You can't be lending them out to other agencies within the government. We heard that happened with one of the helicopters."

Moose have been on a steady decline in Ontario. A report last year by the Environmental Commissioner noted that decline has been about 20% of the herd over the past decade. Similar declines in moose have been noted in Manitoba and northern Minnesota. Minnesota ended moose hunting several years ago. Manitoba has also has tried to stop declines by limiting hunting in certain areas.

Kaplanis said there really isn't any time left to delay.

"If moose are a priority and you are definitely going to commit to research and monitoring, then you have to put your resources in play," he said. "And we think that they agency need to re-evaluate its comitment to moose management."